The first time Husband brought me to Winona, probably in summer of 1978, he introduced me to people in town, people out in the country, and one person in a boathouse (which is what residents prefer to call it, rather than houseboat). It was a tiny one room affair, compact and cleverly furnished, and I remember thinking how fun it would be to live there down on the river. It was so compact! I thought it would be similar to living in the trailer as we had those three summers I’ve written here about – very freeing to downsize, and get closer to nature.
I haven’t been aboard a boathouse since moving back here, but have driven on Latsch Island (in the Mississippi, between Winona and Wisconsin) – the boathouse community seems alive and well. I see that MPR recently did a short piece by Catharine Richert, based in Rochester on what it takes to live in a boathouse – not many residents tough it out for the entire winter. There are the animals (muskrats, turtles, snakes, spiders, mice, frogs) to contend with. Then there is the special “maintenance” invisible to landlubbers: ice buildup during the freeze-thaw cycle. The article states: “Unless the ice is kept at bay, water might flood in through a crack under a door or at the seam between the hull and an outer wall. It can pull the house apart, or under.”
But a close-knit community has grown up over the decades, demonstrating “ongoing communal learning with lessons passed on from houseboat owner to houseboat owner”, since there is no Boathouse Guidebook. Richie Swanson tells, for instance, of ” ‘popping barrels’ — the ritual of forcing sealed plastic barrels under a houseboat to help it float, which Swanson said can take off a finger or a foot if you’re not careful. Swanson said the process is often a group effort among people who share a passion.”
A friend of mine is pictured toward the end of the article… in the purple slippers. She now lives in town, but keeps her boathouse for a work studio. I hope to see this place in person some day.
I agree with the article’s author, “It seems an enviable life for anyone who loves nature, except in those times when nature tries to take back the neighborhood.”
What is the closest you’ve come to living “with nature”?